The rapid economic development in the past decades, which has mostly benefited urban areas, has driven hundreds of millions of rural dwellers to work in cities, leaving behind an aging population in agriculture. Yet, rights to agricultural land have been and will continue to be farmers’ principal assets and one of key sources of income. The issue of rural land tenure is therefore central to continued economic growth and the development of an equitable society in China. In this context, the Chinese Government has pledged to strengthen farmers’ land rights, transform agriculture, vitalize the rural area, and bridge the rural-urban gap.
On an unprecedented scale, The Central Government has launched a concerted effort to reform policies on rural land tenure. Central to this effort is a series of initiatives to enhance security of farmers’ land use rights, by establishing a nationwide rural land registration system and extending the land contracting term for another 30 years. The Central Government has also enacted reforms on land takings and promoted urbanization development, thereby hoping to reduce income disparity and share growth between rural and urban dwellers.
The 17-province survey conducted in the summer of 2016 offers an insight into the ongoing implementation and outcomes of these rural reforms and pilot initiatives, namely on land registration, transfers, takings, and urbanization. There are positive findings showing significant improvements on securing land rights for women and men farmers. For example, a great majority of surveyed villages reported, in what should be a great benefit to farmers’ security of tenure, that they have not readjusted land since the second round of land contracting; 3 where new land certificates from the registration program are issued, they provide significantly better-documented information on farmers’ landholdings; and the compensation for land takings has seen a steady increase in the past decade.
The survey also revealed many concerning issues that need urgent improvements. For instance, farmers’ access to information and rights to participation in decisions that have substantive impact on their land rights are routinely neglected. This has led to many farmers feeling discontent towards implementation of government policies. Moreover, while laws and policies give rural women land rights and benefits equal to men, women farmers continue to be adversely affected by gender-discriminative rules and even purportedly “gender-neutral” rules made at local level. And, despite the Central Government’s repeated commitments to safeguarding arable land, the survey found that farmland has been exposed to persistent risk of conversion to non-agricultural uses, under the guise of land transfers and urbanization.
As we applaud the achievements of current land reforms, we strongly urge the Government to consider and address the issues pointed out in this report. Many of them are not new, but their severity and scale of impact on the security of farmers’ tenure rights and arable land call for careful review and urgent correction.Download the final report – English (pdf)